The curse of convergence.

August 1, 2004

Why is much advertising so deadly dull? Perhaps it’s the lack of real product innovation. Products that are new and different and serve a real need.

One culprit, in our opinion, is the co

ncept of convergence. Instead of trying to create exciting new products, companies are spending billions trying to combine existing products. Here are some recent examples:

• The combination handheld computer/mobile phone. (Palm, Visor.)

• The combination mobile phone/Internet access. (Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson)• The combination TV/Internet access. (WebTV, Ultimate TV, AOLTV, ZapStation.)

• The combination TV/personal computer. (Gateway, Apple, Toshiba, Philips.)

In spite of massive marketing programs, none of these convergence products have become big successes in the marketplace.

Convergence thinking is not limited to high tech. Many consumer marketers are enthralled with the possibilities of combining two products (and sometimes two brands) in one. So now we have:

• Crest toothpaste with Scope mouthwash.

• Jell-O Oreo No Bake Dessert.

• The Chevrolet Avalanche and the Cadillac EXT, both models combining a sedan with a truck.

With the press, the pundits and the high-tech community firmly behind the convergence concept, who could possibly doubt that one day it will all happen?

Any student of history, that’s who. “Those who cannot remember the past,” wrote George Santayana, “are condemned to repeat it.”

Remember when television first appeared on the scene? Everyone thought the future belonged to those companies who could combine magazines and newspapers with TV. Good Housekeeping and many others failed in these efforts, most notably USA Today on TV which lost $15 million the first year and was cancelled during its second season.

Remember all the hype about multimedia? Just what in the world is multimedia? A newspaper is still a newspaper, a magazine is still a magazine, radio is still radio, television is still television, a PowerPoint presentation is still the same boring presentation we used to do with slides. But multimedia? As they say in Texas, “All hat and no cattle.”

Remember the “all-in-one” computer printer, copier, scanner and fax machine? In spite of all the advertising, most people still have separate computer printers, copiers, scanners and fax machines.

And how come the washer didn’t converge with the dryer, the microwave with the oven, the phone with the fax, the VCR with the TV, the printer with the PC?

The truth is, products and services don’t converge. They diverge.

Radio used to be just radio. Today we have AM radio and FM radio. Also portable radios, car radios, headset radios, clock radios, cable radio, and satellite radio. Radio didn’t combine with another medium. It diverged.

Television use to be just television. Today we have broadcast TV, cable TV, satellite TV, and pay-per-view TV. Television didn’t combine with another medium. It diverged.

The telephone use to be just the telephone. Today we have regular phones, cordless phones, car phones, mobile phones, and satellite phones. Also analog and digital phones. The telephone didn’t combine with another product. It diverged.

The computer used to be just a computer. Today we have mainframe computers, midrange computers, servers, personal computers, notebook computers, and handheld computers. The computer didn’t combine with another product. It diverged.

Why do things diverge? Divergence is consistent with the laws of nature and convergence is not. New species, reported Charles Darwin, are created by divergence of existing species not by convergence.

As a result, we have hundreds of varieties of dogs and hundreds of varieties of cats, but very few catdogs, or chickenducks, or cowhorses.

What would help the economy, the high-tech industry and the marketing community the most is a rejection of the convergence concept and a return to divergence thinking. Thinking that built new markets and new brands.